Northumberland council leaders announce sell-off plan

County Hall, Morpeth, headquarters for Northumberland County Council.
County Hall, Morpeth, headquarters for Northumberland County Council.

SURPRISE plans have been announced by council leaders in Northumberland to sell off their civic headquarters, as the authority looks to slash millions of pounds from its budget.

The ruling Labour administration is looking at selling off County Hall, in Morpeth, as part of attempts to cope with a £130million reduction in the budget over the next four years.

The group is looking at moving staff to different bases around the county and decentralising services.

Labour bosses say that it costs more than £450,000 in utilities per annum for County Hall, which also requires £10million spent on it to bring it up to modern-day working standards.

Morpeth Town Council has raised concerns about the proposal, fearing that the sale would have a negative impact on the town.

In a letter seen by the Gazette, council leader Grant Davey says: “Northumberland Labour Group will shortly set its first budget proposals before council.

“These proposals have been developed in the context of a £130million coalition Government revenue cut over the next four years, a 30 per cent reduction in our budget.

“Since we were elected in May, we have begun to change the way the council thinks of itself and have begun our move from departments towards integrated workstreams through changes at the top of our organisation.

“We are about to begin a return to town centres from a centralised County Hall system that has failed the county over the last five years.

“This will revitalise our ability to support Northumberland’s towns and their local businesses.

“Those of you who have worked there will know just as well as me that County Hall as a building requires a fortune spent on it just to keep it up to the most basic modern workplace standards.

“The current revenue position of the council does not allow us to service the kind of debt we would take on to do that work, so much cheaper options will be sought to re-house our workstream teams.”

At last night’s north area committee meeting in Shilbottle, the county council’s business chairman Coun Scott Dickinson, said: “The administration is looking at the future sustainability of County Hall as a location for the county council.

“Decentralisation forms part of these plans, meaning that communities will have face-to-face services delivered locally.”

He added that discussions were at a premature stage.